Haida Dog Salmon, Bill Reid, 1974
Today is Canada’s 150th birthday, a day of celebration for most in the country. But lately I have been reminded that for many, many thousands of indigenous Canadians there is very little to celebrate. The past 150 years for them has been filled with horrific events that are only just beginning to be addressed and admitted on a national scale. Whether it is the shameful history of residential schools or the shameful impoverished conditions so many live with today, their story both past and present should not be ignored, especially on a day like today.
Over the course of my year of discovering creativity in myself and around me, I have encountered the powerful, gracious and elegant art of Native Canadians. In their expressions the spirit remains strong and the story endures. They are a crucial part of the nation and we are blessed that this people continue to shine despite the wounds inflicted on them.
I went searching for Canadian Aboriginal poetry and came upon a poet who resides in my city, Ottawa. Her name is Vera Wabegijig and she is from the Unceded Reserve of Wikwemikong, Ontario in Georgian Bay. Her poem “Hunting” is the art I want to share with you today. In her own words, Vera Wabegijig says this:
“‘Hunting’ has a lot to do with resilience and resistance and the reason why I wrote it was because I was thinking a lot about salmon how the salmon will teach, will give us teaching to help us, will give us insights or give us a way to overcome and to persevere, to live.
No matter what comes your way, no matter what the obstacles are, the salmon will teach me to just overcome, and to keep on going no matter what the obstacles are and to also learn from those obstacles and to integrate them into my life and to just move forward.”
A raven flies, wings with long blue-black feathers drifting on the wind
Currents under body and hovers in the air
Raven dives into the creek below that brims with sockeye.
A salmon leaps out of the water, with reds and silver arcs
Back fins wag and build a momentum, ascending further upstream
Bears with pigeon-pawed trot over with a swaying, heavy head, climb on top of rocks
Where the water flows and falls with mouth wide open
They bite the springing salmon, canine teeth pierce into the silver belly
Eagles swoop, massive wings slow the body down with talons wide open
Preying in the creek, rising with salmon in its golden grip
Yet the salmon move, push, and endure, through broken skin and hanging entrails
This gathering place is encoded in memory, bringing salmon home
This long journey that nothing can stop, not even eagles, ravens or bears
“Lubicon” by Alex Janvier, 1987
I am just over a month into this personal experiment for 2017: A daily blog post having to do with creativity, either of my own or from other artists who inspire and challenge me. Already I have found that it is a rewarding exercise, not only because I get to revisit so many great creators that I enjoy but also because I am discovering new ones along the way. So it is with the Indian Group of Seven.
Following up on my post from yesterday about Alex Janvier and the incredible show of his work at the National Gallery of Canada, I thought it appropriate to introduce you to his fellow Native artists who comprised the Seven (plus one honorary member). Formed in the early 1970’s as the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporation, they were given the name “The Indian Group of Seven” in the Winnipeg Free Press, an allusion to the famous Group of Seven (Canadian landscape painters of the 1920’s). The group was made up of Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez. Haida artist Bill Reid was included as an honorary member, bringing the actual number to eight. The group worked to shift the thinking around aboriginal art, which was not taken seriously in its own right. They set out to visit Native communities to teach and promote the arts and they set up a Trust Fund for emerging Native artists. They were a remarkable group with high ideals. Today, just two of their number are still with us (Janvier and Sanchez).
At the Janvier show at the National Gallery, there is a small anteroom where you can see examples of the art from each of the artists in the Group. It was a joy for me to “discover” these remarkable artists. I decided to give you a brief gallery of their work below in hopes you will find that joy as well.
“Artist and Shaman Between Two Worlds” 1980 Norval Morrisseau (1931 – 2007) was known as the “Picasso of the North”
“Family Portrait” 1974 Joseph Sanchez (1948- ) is the lone American of the Group
“Black Wings” Jackson Beardy (1944-1984) was a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven
“Haida Raven” Bill Reid (1920-1998) was not an original member of the Seven but included because of his tremendous influence. His artwork has been featured on the Canadian $20 bill.
“Buffalo Dancer” Eddy Cobiness (1933-1996) Queen Elizabeth II has artwork by Cobiness in her personal collection
“Beaverman” 1977 Carl Ray (1943-1978) was an apprentice of Morrisseau and was also known as Tall Straight Poplar due to his height (6’4″)
“Untitled” (Mother and Child) Daphne Odjig (1919-2016) received the Order of Canada in 1986 and the Governor General’s Award in 2007